Freeborn residents stick up for park owner

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, August 7, 2013

ALBERT LEA — Almost two dozen people voiced support Tuesday for Harmony Park, the music and camping venue along the western shore of Geneva Lake.

Drawing on personal experiences of how they have benefited from the park, the supporters encouraged the Freeborn County commissioners to keep the park open and to work with its owner, Jay Sullivan, to resolve any problems with the park’s conditional-use permit.

“I owe my life to Jay Sullivan and the community of people I belong to out there,” said Albert Lean Sarah Haukoos.

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As a recovering methamphetamine user, Haukoos said, she has started working there and is “living proof” of the positive impact Harmony Park can have.

The park, between Clarks Grove and Geneva, has been at the center of controversy since a commissioner meeting in June in which Freeborn County Sheriff Bob Kindler and other county officials expressed concern about drug use and other activity there. The meeting followed multiple arrests at the Bella Music Fest on Memorial Day weekend.

The hearing Tuesday was a result of the commissioners wanting input from the public.

One man submitted signatures from more than 200 people asking for support of the venue.

Jeff Carlson, of Austin, said he met his wife at the park.

“Do not let a few bad apples ruin it for the whole bunch,” he said.

Minneapolitan Mark Murphy, a member of the band Wookie Foot, which brings two of the large shows to Harmony Park annually, talked about the standard his group set to achieve when they started performing.

He also talked about the difference between their shows and the Bella Music Fest held in May.

Melody Randall, a neighbor of the park, said she does not have any animosity toward any of the park-goers, but she is concerned about the activities there.

Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson joked that the park has kept him in business with additional arrests, and noted the importance of making sure the people in the park are safe.

Kindler said it was never his intent to shut down Harmony Park, but he thinks the “safety and security at that park are not good.”

He said he does not think the park’s conditional-use permit should be rescinded but instead thinks it should be reviewed after the next event there, Shangri-La, which takes place Sept. 5-8.

“I want this to succeed, but I want it to be safe,” he said. “I’m not going to support anything that’s not safe.”

Despite a handful of opponents, Sullivan said, he was overwhelmed by the support. He said he looks forward to working through the situation with the Sheriff’s Office and other county officials.

During the hearing, he presented the progress he has made to resolve the areas of concern within the conditional-use permit. He said he also is working to resolve the security issues, and will work with Security Specialists Inc.

He said he has cut ties with the promoter from the Memorial Day weekend festival.

Freeborn County Administrator John Kleuver said commissioners are likely to continue their discussion at their next workshop. No formal action was taken Tuesday.